Size and Local Democracy

Size and Local Democracy

Bas Denters, Michael Goldsmith, Andreas Ladner, Poul Erik Mouritzen and Lawrence E. Rose

How large should local governments be, and what are the implications of changing the scale of local governments for the quality of local democracy? These questions have stood at the centre of debates among scholars and public sector reformers alike from antiquity to the present. This monograph offers the first systematic cross-national investigation of these questions using empirical evidence gathered specifically for this purpose. Results provide insights that offer important touchstones for reform activities and academic research efforts in many countries.

Chapter 4: Social embeddedness

Bas Denters, Michael Goldsmith, Andreas Ladner, Poul Erik Mouritzen and Lawrence E. Rose

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy

Extract

In The Civic Culture Almond and Verba argue that a well-functioning democratic system ‘rests upon a set of non-political attitudes and non-political affiliations’ (1963: 300). Such attitudes and affiliations develop in various contexts, both within primary groups such as families, friends and neighbours, and within other settings such as voluntary associations, workplaces, and so forth. We use the term social embeddedness to refer to people’s participation in these and other non-political groups and their orientations towards such collectivities (cf. Miller & Shanks 1996: 100–6). Among various forms of social embeddedness, Almond and Verba consider membership and participation in voluntary associations to be especially important: ‘The organizational member, compared with the non-member, is likely to consider himself more competent as a citizen, to be a more active participant in politics, and to know and care more about politics. He is, therefore, more likely to be close to the model of the democratic citizen’ (Almond & Verba 1963: 320–1). Almond and Verba’s argument foreshadows the currently thriving social capital literature. In 1993 Putnam and his associates published their highly influential book Making Democracy Work, where they argued that variations in the democratic performance of Italian regions were the result of differences in social capital existing in various regions. Putnam uses the term social capital to refer to ‘connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them’ (Putnam 2000: 19). Voluntary associations and the social networks of civil society, Putnam argues, contribute to democracy in two ways.

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